What's on Congress' already-lengthy to-do list

The Senate returns Wednesday. The House returns Monday.

— -- Republican members of Congress likely spent the holidays toasting their tax bill victory, but they face a long to-do list when they return to Washington Wednesday.

First, they must finish the work they punted at the end of the year, and then turn to the things they want to accomplish, even as those bigger-ticket items will require the help of Democrats.

Government funding

Hurricane disaster relief

Members of Congress had three months to reinstate funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers 9 million children and officially expired at the end of September. But they failed to do so, even as states warned families they may lose their CHIP coverage by the end of the year. So as part of the short-term CR, Congress extended CHIP funding for six months, including three retroactively. Members of both parties are committed to a longer-lasting extension when they return this month -- Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden D-Oregon, the top members of the Senate Finance Committee, want a five-year extension – but that hasn’t stopped critics from asking why Congress didn’t fix this problem in September.

Lowering health insurance premiums

Trump announced in October that his administration would stop paying monthly subsidies, known as cost-sharing reduction payments, or CSRs, to help insurance companies keep low-income people covered. Nonpartisan forecasters like the Congressional Budget Office predicted that premiums for people on Obamacare exchanges would skyrocket, prompting a bipartisan group of senators to develop legislative fixes to reinstate those payments. The senators had originally called for a vote on their Obamacare stabilization bills before the end of the year, but asked McConnell to hold off until after the first of the year when it looked “clear that Congress would only be able to pass another short-term extension to prevent a government shutdown.”




House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a December news conference that his conference will try to tackle entitlement and welfare this year, the latter to “pull people out of poverty, into the workforce.” But McConnell has already cast skepticism on that plan, saying those overhauls would have to happen on a broad bipartisan basis. “It was Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill raising the age for Social Security, and that was before I got here, so it's been a while,” he said.

Revisiting Obamacare repeal?

While Trump has asserted that the tax bill’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act individual mandate “essentially” repeals the program, most of the law is still intact. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has been among those predicting another round of votes to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act entirely, including on his own bill, but congressional leaders do not support such efforts, saying instead they want to move forward on new big-ticket priorities. “I wish them well,” McConnell said when asked for his response to members who want to revisit Obamacare in 2018.